Doctors, lawyers at odds on malpractice reform - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Doctors, lawyers at odds on malpractice reform

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April 20, 2004

Albany- Passing a medical malpractice reform bill was one of the things Georgia lawmakers failed to do during the legislative session, and since he sets the agenda Governor Sonny Perdue could try to bring it up again in an upcoming legislative session.

It has been one of the most intensely lobbied measures of the year and has lawyers and doctors at odds.

Orthopedic surgeon Dr.Daniel Rhoads has looking for a partner to join his group for two years now. "Georgia is listed in crisis for medical liability and people are not interested in coming here," he says.

He claims million dollar malpractice lawsuit awards have driven up physician insurance premiums by 30% for the past three years, and even forced one Albany neurosurgeon to leave, and more than of half the Bainbridge obstetricians to quit delivering babies.

"There's a tremendous amount of liability in delivering babies. If an obstetrician decides not to deliver babies then his insurance premiums go down considerably."

"What are we comparing it with. If I sell someone a $30,000 premium, $40,000 premium that sounds like a lot of money, but if you're comparing it to say a million dollars in gross income that's three, four percent," says attorney Walter Burt, III.

Burt says victims shouldn't have to pay for the skyrocketing insurance premiums and says proposing a bill to cap the amount of pain and suffering awards at $250,000 isn't the way to go.

"My theory is if you can't cap how seriously you can injure somebody, how do you just artificially cap what you're going to pay to make them whole," Burt adds.

Doctors say $250,000 is more than fair.

"In other states where this cap has been applied, the malpractice premiums have remained fairly stable or have actually gone down," argues Rhoads.

Rhoads says the huge pay outs are simply linked to how well lawyers generate jury sympathy, but Burt argues Georgia's juries and judges have no problem seeing through non-meritorious and frivolous lawsuits.

The question is, where do lawmakers stand and will they heed doctors warnings of Georgia's growing medical crisis?

Doctors are also calling for tighter qualifications for being an expert witness, and joint liability which means juries could spread the settlement among all medical workers involved in the malpractice.

Posted at 4:45 PM by elaine.armstrong@walb.com